Michael Pond: New resources to treat alcohol use disorder

published on February 8, 2016 by Mike Pond in The Province

Since the documentary Wasted aired on CBC’s Nature of Things, I’ve lost track of the number of desperate requests I’ve received for more information, especially about the medications mentioned in the film.

The idea of using drugs to “get off drugs” – and alcohol is a drug – doesn’t sit well with some members of Alcoholics Anonymous. And they have let me know it.

AA has helped millions, but it can’t help everyone. In fact, nothing helps everyone. Medications are a vital part of the growing tool kit to treat addiction. Untreated or poorly treated addiction costs us billions of dollars and thousands of lives every year. Allowing antiquated attitudes about medications to persist, means people die.

Those attitudes frustrate Dr. Evan Wood, head of Addictions Medicine for Vancouver Coastal Health.

“There are some very exciting things coming forward. There’s a lot of enthusiasm around extended release Naltrexone. It’s an intramuscular injection that lasts for 30 days, which in the case of heroin addiction totally blocks the effects of heroin.”

It also works for a sizable number of people battling alcohol use disorder. This drug is currently in trials here at St. Paul’s Hospital. It’s not yet approved in Canada. I received this injection in Bellingham and it worked for me. It helped block cravings. It is available now in Canada in pill form, but Dr. Evan Woodstimates that only a little more than one per cent of Canadian doctors know about it, or prescribe it.

There are also older drugs now used “off label.” They were created to help with another condition, but have been found through trials, to be effective managing alcoholism.

“The classic example is Gabapentin, originally marketed as a pain medication. But because it has an effect on the reward pathway that’s implicated in alcohol addiction, it has been explored in that context,” says Wood.

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